While listening to an audiobook by an ex Navy SEAL on building mental fortitude, I was briefly introduced to the concept of sheep, wolves and sheepdogs: An analogy first introduced by author David Grossman.

The world is full of sheep: Vulnerable people who follow the crowd and try to blend in. When one starts running, so do all the others. When one starts to baa, the others join in.

There are also wolves in this world: Hunters who prey on the sheep. These are people who will use the stupidity of the crowd to take advantage; they will use fear to control them and will ultimately lead them into things that are not in their best interest.

Then there are the sheep dogs: the ones that stand between the wolves and the sheep. They are the people who guide the sheep for the sheep’s own benefit. Even though they stand within the herd, they are not one of the herd. The herd can’t always relate to the sheepdog… and the sheepdog understands this.

The image of a collie rounding up sheep on a hillside in Yorkshire may confuse this analogy a little, but if you look at the jobs of ‘livestock guardian dogs‘, you will start to see what Dave Grossman was trying to say:

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: A sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath: A wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.”

– Dave Grossman


As a metaphor taken from the American military, it is easy to see it as a parable of their troops fighting, despite the wavering support of the people (at home or in the occupied country).

However there is a risk of it being used as a way of justifying violence when the line between wolf and sheep dog is blurred by perspective: A wolf could easily proclaim himself a sheepdog to the flock. Who can know their true motive?

I like to think that this analogy is not a celebration of those willing to use violence, but instead of those who are willing to act, change and to do what is necessary for the greater good. Sheepdogs are people who are willing to take risks and set an example for the flock to follow.


Key personality traits and actions I would expect to see in a human ‘sheepdog’ would be:

  • Leadership through example
  • Choosing their own path
  • Standing up for what they believe in
  • Protecting those around them
  • Being a decision maker and knowing when it is time to act


This analogy can also be used for a wider meaning. One that jumps to mind is that of environmental impact and even personal health.

In the case of environmental issues the sheep are those that are aware that there is a problem, the wolves are the ones that profit from it (despite the consequences) and the sheep dogs are those that are willing to make difficult decisions and changes in their own life in order to do what is needed for the greater good.


Things you might hear a sheep say:

“One person could never make enough of an impact, so why bother?”

“I understand why you are doing that, I just don’t want to do that myself”


Things you might hear a wolf saying:

“We simply supply what the people want”


Things you might hear a sheepdog saying:

“It was difficult to make the change but I couldn’t go on knowing the impact my actions were having”

“Something has to be done, why isn’t anyone talking about this!?”

“If not us then who? If not now then when”


Think on this analogy enough and you will start to see glimpses of these traits in the people all around you. The sheep are the easiest to spot, as there are just so many of them. Wolf-like behaviour may shock you when you notice it and sheepdogs might be found in the most unlikely place or people… after all they are trained to blend in.

What do you think? Have you met a wolf or someone with wolf like tendencies? Have you noticed sheep-like behaviour in yourself or those around you? Do you strive to be a sheepdog? Let me know in the comments below…


Wolf and sheep photography by Thomas Harrison Anthony